PROVIDENCE — Governor Daniel J. McKee began a full four-year term on Tuesday, standing on stage near his late father’s office chair and thanking his 94-year-old “celebrity mom,” who starred in his campaign ads.
“As you might have seen in my TV commercials this past year, family is very important to me,” McKee said during his inauguration ceremony. “And I’m glad to have them here with me today.”
Before giving his inaugural speech, McKee began with moment of silence for former governor Lincoln C. Almond, who died on Monday night.
During the speech, McKee identified three goals. “First: Raising incomes for Rhode Islanders in all 39 cities and towns,” he said. “And when I say raising incomes, I mean investing in all of us and ensuring Rhode Islanders have the skills to get good-paying jobs.”
Secondly, McKee called for “raising education outcomes for our children to reach Massachusetts levels by 2030,” saying, “We must be all-in on improving education because that is the key to the long-term economic future of our state.”
McKee also called for “creating a healthier Rhode Island where we reduce chronic illness and improve health outcomes.”
McKee held his inauguration ceremony inside the Rhode Island Convention Center, breaking with the tradition of the governor giving the inaugural speech outside the State House because of the “extremely cold weather that we usually experience on Inauguration Day in early January,” a spokesman has said. At noontime, it was raining and 45 degrees in Providence.
Advocates for the homeless protesting outside the RI Convention Center before the inauguration of Governor Daniel McKee pic.twitter.com/u7kkEl0jre— Edward Fitzpatrick (@FitzProv) January 3, 2023
Advocates for the homeless stood outside the Convention Center, calling for McKee to do more to house Rhode Islanders.
Terri Wright, an organizer at Direct Action for Rights and Equality, said it was insulting for McKee to move the inauguration indoors when so many people are still living outdoors. “The governor needs to push the people’s agenda and get folks housed because not only are there folks forced to live outdoors, but there are evictions happening right now,” she said.
“We have a terrible housing crisis,” said Sister Mary Pendergast of the Sisters of Mercy. “Warming shelters are not enough. Get people off the streets now. Yes, it’s an emergency. But long term, build us houses.”
McKee, a Democrat, won a full four-year term in the Nov. 8 election, beating Republican Ashley Kalus, 57.9 percent to 38.9 percent. A former lieutenant governor, he took office in March 2021, when former governor Gina M. Raimondo became US commerce secretary.
“When I gave my last inauguration speech, Rhode Island was facing a very different set of challenges stemming from a once-in-a-generation public health crisis,” McKee said. “Challenges like we’ve never seen before. I stood before you and made a commitment that, together, we would get shots in arms, get Rhode Islanders back to work, get teachers and students fully back in the classroom, and get our economy moving again.”
McKee ticked off accomplishments during his tenure.
“We’re bringing offshore wind to East Providence,” he said. “We’re building a new State Health Lab in Providence. We’re investing in our world-class fisheries in Galilee. We opened a new education center in Woonsocket. We’re making crucial investments in Quonset. We’re delivering historic tax relief to families.”
And now, he said, the state we must continue the momentum.
“Rhode Island, this is our time,” McKee said. “This is our moment. It’s our turn. And I need your help to make sure we make the most of it. Each and every Rhode Islander has a role to play in this next chapter — and as governor, I’m asking you to do the work with us.”
He called for Rhode Islanders to “join the team.”
“It’s like my dad would say: ‘Success is there for you — all you have to do is earn it,’” McKee said. “I believe my dad was right. So let’s work hard, earn that success, and see the best in Rhode Island’s future. Let’s stay focused — not on what divides us, but what makes us stronger and what brings Rhode Islanders together.”
The governor’s daughter, Kara McKee, who appeared on NBC’s “The Voice,” sang “America the Beautiful” during the inauguration ceremony.
Kara McKee sings "America the Beautiful" at her father's inauguration pic.twitter.com/NtKQtLmM0Z— Edward Fitzpatrick (@FitzProv) January 3, 2023
During her inauguration speech, Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos, a Democrat, noted she is the first Latina and the first Black woman elected as Rhode Island’s lieutenant governor. “But I promise you that I will not be the last.”
Matos, who was born in the Dominican Republic and became the Providence City Council president, said, “I cannot ever repay the debt I hold to this state, which has given me so many opportunities. But I will use every second of the next four years to try. And I promise I will be our state’s biggest cheerleader here at home, and away. There is a lot of work to do.”
Former state representative Gregg Amore, an East Providence Democrat, was sworn in as Rhode Island’s new secretary of state, succeeding Nellie M. Gorbea, who lost a Democratic primary for governor.
“I know that in my capacity as Rhode Island’s chief elections official, I have the solemn duty to serve as one of the stewards of our democracy at a time when democracy itself is in the balance, both around the world and at home,” Amore said. “It is essential for us to acknowledge that American democracy is not guaranteed. It is not an inherited right. Its preservation relies on advanced and active citizenship.”
Peter F. Neronha began another term as Rhode Island’s attorney general, recalling that when he began his previous job as US attorney, he told a journalist that he planned to focus on doing a good job on the immediate matters at hand.
“But what I’ve learned over the last 13 years is that you better do more than focus on the six inches in front of your face,” he said. “You have to have the vision to look down the road, to see what’s ahead, to see the challenges that await and plan for them. Because if you don’t do that, if you don’t focus on the miles ahead and the yards ahead, we won’t get to where we need to be as a state.”
For example, Neronha said his office can take on challenges such as health care. “Folks, take my word, that if you don’t fix health care, the hospitals on which we rely will not be here in five or 10 years,” he said.
Former Central Falls mayor James A. Diossa took the oath of office to become Rhode Island’s new general treasurer, replacing Seth Magaziner, who was elected to Congress.
“I stand humbly before you all as the son of immigrants who arrived with nothing — a kid who grew up on the streets of Central Falls with little more than a soccer ball and a dream,” Diossa said. “Together we made changes in Central Falls and made it the ‘Comeback City.’”
He concluded by saying, “Thank you again for this privilege. Thank you all for loving Rhode Island.”
This story has been updated with comments from Terri Wright of Direct Action for Rights and Equality, Sister Mary Pendergast of the Sisters of Mercy, Attorney General Peter F. Neronha, and General Treasurer James A. Diossa.
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.